As a youngster growing up in Montreal, Georges Laraque dealt with racism from an early age and was told he would never make it to the NHL because of the color of his skin. Using those words and a new found hero in Jackie Robinson as motivation, he set out to prove people wrong. And prove them wrong he did.
Although Laraque is known as one of the toughest guys in hockey, he is also known as one of the nicest guys off the ice. Work in his community is just as important as his work in the crease. Those less fortunate are as important to him as a win or a goal. A hero for many and friend to all, FSN Arizona is set to chronicle his remarkable story when it debuts In My Own Words - Georges Laraque on Wednesday, Jan. 17, at 6:30 p.m.
This latest installment of the network's In My Own Words series has FSN Arizona's Todd Walsh interviewing the fan favorite Laraque for this exclusive 30-minute documentary. Walsh gets the Montreal native to discuss a wide-ranging array of topics, including the racism he faced while growing up in Canada, his appreciation for Jackie Robinson, why he left Edmonton for Phoenix and the love he has for his fans.
In My Own Words - Georges Laraque leads off a big night of Phoenix Coyotes programming on FSN Arizona next Wednesday. Following the Laraque profile, the network televises the Coyotes game at Colorado at 7 p.m. Immediately after the game, Qwest Coyotes All Access Pass that takes viewers on a behind-the-scenes tour with the team's training staff, equipment room guys and its video department. Then at 10 p.m., In My Own Words - Georges Laraque airs once again.
Here are some of excerpts from In My Own Words - Georges Laraque:
What was it like growing up playing hockey in Montreal: "Back in those days, there weren't as many minorities and black players playing hockey. I was always the only one playing hockey and every kid went hard against me and there was a lot of racism too. Everybody was saying to me I would never make it to the NHL and I remember going home at night crying because people would call me names and all that stuff. But I kept that in my mind and at such a young age, I was like 'you know what, I am going to use this as motivation because one day I am going to make it to the NHL and all that stuff they said to me, they can all swallow it back up.'"
What other sports were you interested in playing: "I was also playing soccer, following in my dad's footsteps, I was a very good soccer player. I also played football and had to make a big choice by going to the United State to college, but at 16-17 years old, I couldn't speak English, I only spoke French. Sticking with hockey was a big decision to make, but once again, when I was 17, you had to think about those 10 previous years that I endured racism and the goal I had in my mind, I was like 'I can't quit hockey, I got to stick with hockey.' I had a goal in my mind and I had to show everybody wrong and that was my way of doing it."
Where did his support come from: "Obviously, my parents encouraged me and my brother and my sister too. Without them, it would have been much harder to achieve that goal. My dad knew who I was, he lived through it - he saw the racism, sitting in the stands, seeing the parents yelling at me. He saw all that, the determination he saw in my eyes and he knew that his son was going to be a warrior and he knew that nobody was going to make me stop playing hockey, it didn't matter what I went through."
When this hurt you, did you talk to your parents about it: "They knew. They knew. And they were concerned about it because they thought since I saw it at such a young age, if you grew up with that hatred, how would I turn out when I am older? What if I don't make it? They really wanted to make sure that this was the path that I was going to stick with. If I leave, they win, they make me quit and I can't do that."
Who were your heroes growing up - Wayne Gretzky? "Ah, definitely. Who doesn't idolize Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux when you grow up? As a kid because of my color and what I went through, I wanted to idolize minority players, but there wasn't really any. Believe it or not, when I grew up, the athlete that I looked up to to get into the NHL was Jackie Robinson. My sister gave me a book about him and how he was the first black player playing baseball. I didn't know there weren't any black players playing in the NHL, so I thought I was going to be the first one. When I read a book about Jackie, I was like 'oh my god, I want to be like him - I want to be in a book one day.'"
On the work he loves to do in the community: "I thank god to be in the NHL, make good money and have this life, but, how do you really thank god - just by saying that or doing something? If you feel fortunate about being in a position then do something to actually be grateful about it. That is what I am doing. Everyday I am here, I feel bad if I don't do something else for somebody else because they did this for me. For the unfortunate people, you should be there for them. This is the real stuff we are fighting today, not fighting people and buying cars or a house and all that stuff - that's all fictional. At the end of the day, this is not the stuff that is going to make you happy. It's if you made a difference in a kid's life."
Why he left Edmonton for Phoenix: "I left Edmonton for two big reasons. First reason is obviously because I didn't feel the Oilers really wanted me and wanted to utilize me. And at the same time also, being drafted by them in 1995 and being the only team I played for, I wanted to explore other options and see where I could take my career and if I could take it to a new level. To only be with one team in your entire career, when you retire, you wonder how it would have been if I would have been with another team. How was it playing with another team? I had no idea, so that is why it's good to challenge yourself in life and take yourself out of the comfort zone and see what you can do... Also, when the greatest player that ever played the game calls you personally and asks you to play for him, you just don't say no."
On fighting - are you a lover or a fighter? "I am actually a lover. I am not this big fight person. Fighting is what I do because it's my job. I don't like fighting. I wish I was born like I was (Jaromir) Jagr and I could score 50 goals without sweating, but I am not. I am 250-pounds, I am 6-3 and I am a fighter on the ice. It's definitely something I do because that is what I have to do to be successful and to be here. But it is definitely not in my nature."
In the new NHL, the enforcer's role in the NHL - is it going the way of the dinosaur? "The thing I don't understand is, fighting -- it's so exciting. When there is a goal, the only people who stand up are the people cheering for that team. But a fight, everybody wants to see it, people rush to their TVs, rush to the bar, people love it. And now, we are turning into a ballet league where all the tough guys are going to be gone and it's really unfortunate."
FSN Arizona, which is celebrating its tenth year on the air, continues to televise the most regional sports action in the state and is the exclusive cable television home of the Phoenix Coyotes, Phoenix Suns, Arizona Diamondbacks, Arizona Cardinals, Arizona State University, University of Arizona, Arizona Rattlers and Phoenix Mercury. The network is currently seen in 2.8 million households in Arizona & New Mexico and can also be seen across the country via home satellite services.